July 31, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Troubled teen finds a way to break cycle

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

The name rang a bell, but not a loud one.

"Dan Lemieux," said Craig Deveau, a former caseworker for what was then Maine Child Protective Services, over the telephone last week. "You wrote about him a long time ago -- it must have been back in the '90s. You called me up and asked permission to run the article because he was in state custody."

Oh yes, that young kid wandering the streets of Portland. And Deveau was calling all these years later because ...?

"I'm pretty proud of what he's done," said Deveau. "You should give him a shout."

I promised I would. But first, I dove into the archives. ...

Dan Lemieux was only 16 that day I sat down with him in late 1995. But he seemed much older.

He told me how, when he was just 8, he'd sometimes slept by a dumpster near his home in Bath because his parents had not a clue about the responsibility that comes with a child.

He told me how, at 9 or 10, he was sexually abused by a group of teenagers who treated him more like a toy than a little boy.

He told me how 11 through 13 was a drug-induced blur and how, at 14, he tried to commit suicide by sticking a radio antenna down his throat.

"I'm doing all right," Dan told me less than convincingly that day. "I mean I'm not dead or anything else."

Lemieux is 34 now. And as he sat in a coffee shop in Freeport on Tuesday morning, reading a printout of that long-ago peek into his childhood-turned-nightmare, all he could do was shake his head.

"If I didn't read this, a lot of this stuff wouldn't even come back to me," he said. "It was pretty brutal."

Few jobs demand more than that of child protective worker. The hours are long, the pay is low and the case loads are so deep that helping a kid achieve a healthy, successful life is often more a fantasy than a realistic measure of success.

But it can happen.

"I got really lucky," said Lemieux. "A lot of people who go into state custody don't have the same (case)worker for very long – they're there for maybe a year or two and then they split you up. I had Craig the whole time."

Lemieux was 11 when his file first landed on Deveau's desk. The state had taken the boy from his parents and placed him in a procession of foster homes, group homes, special schools and the occasional psychiatric facility until, at 16, Lemieux decided he could take care of himself on the streets of Portland.

It didn't last. The ever-vigilant Deveau swooped in and plugged his young charge back into the system until, upon turning 18, Lemieux "aged out" of state custody and was officially on his own.

And unofficially?

"When a kid like that turns 18, he's often still not ready to fly," said Deveau, 52, who left his state job a decade ago and now works in the Auburn school system. "So I gave Danny my home phone number, my cellphone and told him, 'If you're in a jam or have questions about life or whatever, give me a call.' And he did."

Lemieux had good reason.

First came a son named Domanick. It was too much, too soon for the 19-year-old Lemieux. His relationship with the child's mother was a slow-motion disaster and, before long, Lemieux found himself reluctantly surrendering his parental rights to the state of Massachusetts, where they were living at the time.

(Continued on page 2)

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